Woman who Died Aged 115 may Hold Secrets to Longevity

Woman who Died Aged 115 may Hold Secrets to Longevity

In a new study into advancing the longevity of humans it was found that in the healthy white blood cells of a 115-year-old woman, there were over 400 mutations.

Of course genetic mutations have been linked to diseases such as cancer, but these new findings by researchers suggest that mutations in white blood cells are largely harmless over a lifetime. And may have beneficial effects on ageing. Blood is continually replenished by hematopoietic (meaning “to make blood”) stem cells that are inside our bone marrow and divide to produce different types of blood cells. Cell division can lead to genetic mutations and hundreds of mutations have been found in patients with blood cancers. However, until recently little was known about white blood cells and mutations. Because they weren’t harmful, they weren’t studied.

The woman in the study was the oldest person in the world when she died in 2005 at 115 years old. She is also thought to be the oldest person ever to donate her body to science. The hundreds of mutations identified in her white blood cells appeared to be tolerated by the body and did not cause any disease.

The researchers also found possible new insight into the limits of human longevity, according to the authors of the study published on-line April 23 in the journal Genome Research.

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Lead author Dr. Henne Holstege (pictured below) said in a journal news release:

“To our great surprise we found that, at the time of her death, the peripheral blood was derived from only two active hematopoietic stem cells (in contrast to an estimated 1,300 simultaneously active stem cells), which were related to each other. Because these blood cells had extremely short telomeres, we speculate that most hematopoietic stem cells may have died from ‘stem cell exhaustion,’ reaching the upper limit of stem cell divisions.” 

Woman who Died Aged 115 may Hold Secrets to Longevity

The researchers also found that the woman’s white blood cells’ telomeres were extremely short. Telomeres, which are at the ends of chromosomes and protect them from damage, get a bit shorter each time a cell divides. Further research is needed to learn whether such stem cell exhaustion is a cause of death in extremely old people.

The next step will be to see if the white blood cell mutations can be artificially produced, and their effect on longevity, and whether avoiding stem cell exhaustion is feasible, thus prolonging life.

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From Fruit Bats to Flying Robots?

From Fruit Bats to Flying Robots?

Flying robots always seem to be more difficult to create than other types of land-based or underwater robots. While we have seen a variety of robots that are vaguely humanoid in shape and can emulate human movements, we haven’t seen anything significant flying that isn’t a drone or toy helicopter .  Where are our Transformers and Frank Herbert’s Dune Ornithopters? It might be because we’ve never managed to fly like birds ourselves, and have had to use engine-powered flight or fixed-wing gliders.  But that may be about to change. Think bat.

From Fruit Bats to Flying Robots?

Last month in the Journal Physics of Fluids, researchers at Virginia Tech’s Computational Fluid Thermal Science and Engineering Lab published looked at how bats rapidly flap their wings in flight and considered that this could promote new designs of flying robots. The Researchers studied how fruit bats use their wings to manipulate the air around them. Understanding how these processes work in this branch of nature could help engineers design mini flying robots, known as “micro air vehicles”  equipped with rapidly flapping wings.

Danesh Tafti

Danesh Tafti

Over to Danesh Tafti, a Professor in the department of mechanical engineering and also director of the Engineering Lab. He said-

“Bats have different wing shapes and sizes, depending on their evolutionary function. “Typically, bats are very agile and can change their flight path very quickly — showing high manoeuvrability for  prey capture, so it’s of interest to know how they do this.”  The bats have feathers on their wings like birds, but have wings made of flexible webbed membranes that connect to their fingers and can stretch to almost 7 inches.

The scientists collected measurements of live flying bats and used specially designed computer software to analyse the relationship between the animals’ movements and the motion of airflow around their wings. Much to their surprise they found that bats can instinctively change their wing movement to generate increased forces from their flapping. The bats can expand the area of its wings by almost a third to create a powerful down-thrust and maximise lift. When flapping their wings upward, the wing size is minimised to prevent adverse effects of gravity slowing their flight.

By copying these flapping motions and wing-size changes, engineers could design more efficient small-scale flying robots.  It may not mean that we are ready now to design a robotic bat-man any, or swarms of tiny robotic vampire bats to descend on and harry an enemy, but these findings are likely to be taken forward somewhere….

From Fruit Bats to Flying Robots?

The Secret to Longer, Healthier and Happier lives? 20% Less Food!

The Secret to Longer, Healthier and Happier lives? 20% Less Food!

In a recent study by Harvard Medical School, which used data going back to the 1970s, Professor of medicine Francine Grodstein concluded that “diet makes a difference”. Plain and simple.

Francine Grodstein

Francine Grodstein

“The higher our body weight and body mass index, the less likely we are to live older, happier, healthier lives,” she said.

Well you may have preferred to hear about a breakthrough in a longevity magic bullet, or transferring DNA from animals that live for over 150 years to humans, but there’s no getting away from it. If you reduce your food intake by just a fifth, you will live a longer life.  This has been shown in animals too- reducing bodyweight by 20% in mice increased their lifespans.

William Mair

William Mair

William Mair, HSPH assistant professor of genetics and complex diseases, said a study that has gained a lot of attention found that reducing body weight by 20 percent in mice increased their longevity. It is even true for insects such as the fruit fly.

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By cutting down our food intake and body mass, we won’t live forever, but the quality of life should be better for longer. In other words all the morbidities that can afflict us will be pushed back to the last years of our lives.

Turning to avoiding mental disease, a promising area in warding off dementia involves taking up a personal challenge such as learning to play an instrument or to speak another language, said Thomas Perls, a Boston University professor of medicine and director of the New England Centenarian Study. However building up these mental functional reserves that seem to stave off or delay dementia don’t seem to apply to everyone. The brainiest most mentally advanced people can still succumb to dementia.

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Robots: Now a Force for Good- Anyone for Anybot?

Robots: Now a Force for Good- Anyone for Anybot?

In the 1950’s comics and sci-fi films were renown for portraying Robots as being evil, running amok and like Prometheus Unbound (Frankenstein’s monster) biting the hand that created and fed them. While there were some benign robots, the theme of treacherous robots continued unabated, think  HAL 9000 in 2001:A Space Odyssey, I robot (the book and film) , and even Transformers where robots battled it out on our behalves with us looking on like dim-witted spectators.

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But here in 2014, the reality is quite different. Robots are getting more and more sophisticated and all are helping, not hindering mankind. Examples you want?  Here’s one. He (or she?) is called QB and is being sold by the company Anybots-

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In a nutshell it  is a remotely controlled, self-balancing, “virtual presence robot/avatar”.  If you want more catch-phrases for this form of communication, how about “mobile telepresence”.

The Anybot is controlled through a browser-based interface and allows you to be in virtual attendance at any event or meeting that you can’t make in person.  Anybots are equipped with a speaker, camera, and video screen.  They connect to the Internet over Wi-Fi and you activate them as well as control them remotely from your computer.  Hook up a camera to your computer, you can show live video of yourself while interacting through the robot in a remote location anywhere in the world.

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How to steer your robot? You use your keyboards four arrow keys to make it turn or go forward & back.  A built-in guidance system augments the driver’s commands, making it easy to safely avoid people or objects and move through narrow doorways. It has a ground-breaking balancing system and unlike your home computer or server at work, won’t fall over!

Practical examples? A doctor could visit their patient from a remote location and those who are home-bound could use this robot to attend social gatherings, be they in or out-of-doors.  The Anybot could be used in education to allow sick students to still participate with their classmates in and out of the classroom, as well as allowing educators the ability to check in or give lectures when they are away from the classroom.

There’s a lot of additional features and software you can add to make your Anybot individual and tailor-made for your needs.

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So far, none of them have gone beserk and attacked humans!

A Two Centuries Old Fish: Could it Unlock the Secret of Longevity for Man?

A Two Centuries Old Fish: Could it Unlock the Secret of Longevity for Man?

There has been a buzz in the “can we extend human lives to 200 years” department following the catching of a 200 year old Shortracker Rockfish off Alaska’s coast. That fish was born there two centuries ago- before Alaska was a US State. It is the oldest Shortracker ever caught. It must also have been very lucky because many are hunted and eaten by predatory fish and so never see out their full life-span.

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With advances in stem cell research and DNA, this is yet another animal, like the naked mole rat, that may harbour secrets as to how we could manipulate our bodies to reduce ageing and promote longevity. Like the mole rat, this fish is no beauty to look at. It looks like a bloated shimmering orange goldfish.

Rockfish are some of the world’s oldest living fish, matched only by equally long-lived fish like the sturgeon, an ancient fish found in North America that can live to be more than a century old. There must be something special in the fish’s make up, because even discounting accidental death and being eaten by other fish or caught for food, most species of fish only live 2-8 years.

The previous record age for a caught rockfish was about 175-years-old, and that fish, at about 32.5-inches-long, was smaller than this latest catch.

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Let’s hope the fish is donated now to scientific longevity research, and not end up in a fish pie!